Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 40.djvu/141
THE FORGED LETTER OF GENERAL LEE. 137
the word "sublime," or "sublimest," in connection with duty. No living member of the Lee family has any knowledge on the subject.
As the matter is important, and it seems impossible to ob- tain any further evidence concerning it, I venture to offer a con- jecture as to the authority on which Dr. Jones made his state- ment (repeated in the same words thirty-two years later) that the Duty Sentence "did occur in a letter by General Lee to his son." In both of Dr. Jones' books this statement follows imme- diately after the equally positive assertion that They Duty Letter is "unquestionably spurious." For neither of these statements is any authority given. This suggests that the authority for both was the same, and that, for some reason, Dr. Jones preferred not to give it, and to let the statements rest on his own ipse dixit.
My conjecture (I cannot call it more) is that Dr. Jones' authority was Mrs. Mary Custis Lee, widow of General Lee. Dr. Jones' first book, "Personal Reminiscences of General Rob- ert E. Lee," was written soon after General Lee's death ; and in the preface he says, "Mrs. Lee did me the kindness to read care- fully, and very warmly approve, my manuscript." And on page 287 he gives an instance of Mrs. Lee's comment on what he had written.
Now, I think it almost certain that this manuscript, when submitted to Mrs. Lee, contained The Duty Letter, 35 and that it was Mrs. Lee who told Dr. Jones that this letter was "un- questionably spurious." That she was right has been, I think, demonstrated. But Dr. Jones, while accepting her statement as to the spuriousness of the letter as a whole (probably based on the authority of General Lee), lamented, no doubt, the loss of the sentence: "Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our lan- guage." And Mrs. Lee may have consoled him by saying she thought General Lee had written this sentence in another let- ter to one of his sons. Or she may have said (mistakenly, as I believe), that General Lee did write a letter containing the Duty Sentence "to one of his sons."
35. The Duty Letter, omitting the first four sentences, was printed, accompanied by eulogistic comment, in John Esten Cooke's "Life of General Robert E. Lee," which was published in 1871 the year after General Lee's death.